National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins
We drive south out of Memphis, dark shoulders of rain
behind us. Now we turn west, towards the river, into rain.
The setting sun tumbles like a drunk through the trees,
and an old man fishing the bank lifts his face to rain.
I sit on the porch, sip whiskey from a jam jar, listen
for tree frogs and cicadas, for the lick of wind through rain.
Church Street is flooded. Don’t try to drive it—it’ll knock
your spark out. Road of dirty water, outrage of rain.
It comes down like rusty buckets, stumps, bricks. In the morning,
she lifts herself from the dark water of dreams, but still it rains.
Wind shakes pecans from the dark trees. Before dawn,
we wake and gather them in the fog, a gray wool of rain
The soybeans drowned. The wheat rotted at the roots.
But green stalks swell between the dikes: rice loves rain.
A man holds a sopping bag over his head. Near the bayou,
a boy pulls off his shoes, his shirt, runs lazy eights of rain.
They wake in the dark, the heat of their sleep between them.
She swings her hips over his with the clatter of rain.
The road’s a sudden river, trees thunder with dripping,
the sky no longer belongs to itself. All the world is rain.
Poem first appeared in Crab Orchard Review 14.1 (2009).
A: I have two small children, so waking early isn’t a problem at all. Once the kids are out the door, I sit with a cup of coffee and do a little journaling, just get down some things I’ve been thinking about, things I’ve noticed in the last few days, a bit of language playing in my head. Then, I flip open the laptop and get to work on whatever projects seems most exciting at the moment. I get distracted easily and always like to have a couple poems and an essay or story and one longer project going at once, which means, of course, that any single piece often takes months or even years to be finished. I think, though, that that time allows me some necessary, in-process reflection. At least I hope it does!
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: We live in a time of such abundance in poetry! There’s so many wonderful writers working and being published; it’s an exciting time to be a reader. In the last year I’ve discovered a number of new-ish poets—Traci Brimhall, Kate Northrup, and Lisa Fay Coutley, to name a few—whose work I just love. And I’ve been spending lots of time with Auden’s and Li-Young Lee’s as well.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Let’s say a little cabin above the Selway River of Idaho.
Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward, winner of the 17th Annual White Pine Press Poetry Prize, and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in north Iowa.